PEN’s decision to disinvite Russian dissident writers from the World Voices Festival sets a dangerous precedent.
Churchill and Roosevelt were not infallible, but they did think and act globally. With all our access to instant information, have we lost our ability to see the bigger picture and act beyond immediate tribal concerns?
Thank you for the reminder that, under far more ‘seriously difficult’ times, FDR and the U.S. were able to see the value of individuals beyond tribalism. Could that era have been an outlier? Or maybe we aren’t living in ‘seriously difficult’ times, which permits us to fall into such petty squabbles based on identity politics. Wokeness’s basic tenet is that individuals and groups are judged on inherited identities, e.g., where we were born, our skin color and our sex. So, no, not everyone is willing to agree that “There can be no collective guilt by virtue of wrongful birth.”
Truly a repulsive and disgraceful decision.
The thing Thomas Mann wrote that led to him having to flee (or more accurately, not return) to Germany was the excellent, nuanced lecture called "The Sorrow and the Grandeur of Wagner". Now Mann was a Wagnerian - he loved the music but he noted, eloquently, some issues with the Wagner cult as well as Wagner himself. All in all, it was a very fair and extremely insightful appraisal (unlike most that have been written about Wagner since the 1970s.) There was an uproar about it within Germany, with the conductor Hans Knappertsbusch organizing a petition against it signed by many luminaries including ,sadly for me, Richard Strauss. The petition existed primarily because he criticized Wagner. Mann was vacationing at the time of this reaction against him in Switzerland. Friends told him not to return to Germany as they feared he was not safe, and he did not.
To say that he courageously opposed the Nazis is, perhaps, taking it a bit too far. His lecture was - according to Richard Joll in the New York Review of Books (and I concur) "a masterpiece of criticism and remains one of the best things ever written about Wagner. But because it provided a subtle and critical analysis of Wagner and his work, obliquely attacking the Nazi view of Wagner as a prophet of German nationalism and indeed of National Socialism, and especially because it had been delivered to foreign audiences, it was at once the object of a violent public attack." After he chose not to return, then he safely and directly opposed Nazism from a distance. But the lecture that led to his remaining away from Germany was just not at all a direct attack on Nazis. To read it, it is hard to believe that this led to exile.
It was very much like our cancel culture of the day, but Hitler had come to power two weeks before the lecture series, and therein lies a difference.
Defending liberal principles merely as abstractions hasn't been getting the job done. We need a way to make it sound more down to Earth.
You would never know it from this article, but Marlene Dietrich's greatest contribution to the war effort was devising a scheme for maintaining precise altitude for the skip bombing of the Ruhr river dams
For the record, I think PEN decision was reprehensible. However, the concept of 'collective guilt' is more morally ambiguous than this article implies. After WWII Germany paid reparations to many countries (notably Israel). Was that wrong? In the 1980s, the US paid reparations to Japanese-Americans interned in WWII. Was that wrong? After WWII, Japan paid billions of dollars to China (while not admitting any guilt). Was that wrong? My point is that the concept of 'collective guilt' is more complex and nuanced than many would believe.